Europe’s unhappy political families

February 26, 2016

Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way – the so-called Anna Karenina principle is as true for Europe’s growing collection of hung parliaments as it was for 19th century Russian aristocrats.

The rise of an anti-immigrant eurosceptic party has saddled Denmark with a crisis-prone minority government; Portugal has ended up with a fragile leftist coalition after incumbent conservatives were punished for following austerity policies; attempts to build a viable coalition in Spain remain thwarted by issues including Catalonia’s yearning for independence; now Irish voters are heading to the polls for what promises to be an equally inconclusive election.

In Ireland’s case the problem is a combination of the all-too-familiar – the resentment felt by those left behind by the post-crisis recovery — and the historic. Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s conservative Fine Gael and its junior coalition partner Labour have seen their support dip to between 33 and 37 percent in polls, well short of the 45 percent needed to secure a majority.

That wouldn’t be a problem if Fine Gael were able to strike a coalition deal with Fianna Fail, Ireland’s other mainstream party. The two grouping’s policies are in fact remarkably similar. But the snag is that they were on opposite sides of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty that led to Irish independence — a feud that still divides them to this day.

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